Henry Lawson Country

Henry Lawson is haunting us. Everywhere we go there are references to him. Parks, streets and pubs all bear his name. It feels like every corner you walk around there’s a plaque referencing him in some way or another – Henry slept here, drank here, wrote a line about this tree, creek or geranium…

I think I’m going to have to crack and go and pick up a copy of some Lawson ballads for weekend reading. Lawson was born in Grenfell but spent some of his childhood in Gulgong. Both Grenfell and Gulgong stage Henry Lawson Festivals in June. Lawson’s work references towns all across this region – Central Western Tablelands of NSW.

Last week, I ran an all-day writing workshop with senior students at Gulgong High School. At one point, when we were working on character development, I asked the young writers to create a character that they might bump into on the main street of Gulgong. Some of them groaned. The familiar is so often less inspiring than the exotic. In defense of the premise, I suggested that if one of the students in the workshop – for example Jessica McLennan (who wrote beautifully) – spent the rest of her life writing about Gulgong and NSW, then eventually Gulgong would stage a “Jessica McLennan Festival” and Henry Lawson could wind up being completely overshadowed by her. Lawson is such an icon in Gulgong that all the kids fell about laughing, though Jessica looked rather chuffed at the notion.

I’m sure if you’d told Henry Lawson, as a young man living in Gulgong, that the town would lionise him one day he would have laughed too. Lawson led a tragic life and died impoverished and pretty much destitute. But he made these country towns and the people who inhabited them live on the page. I wonder what he’d make of it all now? As an alcoholic, I suspect he’d be pretty pleased to discover the area that he thirstily tramped through in his youth is now a fabulous wine growing region.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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